Commissioner for public safety weighs in on borough health

Bezich talks parades and holiday season in light of COVID-19.

In recognizing residents of Haddonfield who may experience “pandemic fatigue” as the seventh month of COVID-related social restrictions approaches, Commissioner for Public Safety Colleen Bianco Bezich finds it troubling to see how many people who traverse borough streets and browse shops in the downtown core aren’t doing the simple things to prevent the virus’ spread.

“For those I know who have been directly affected, it’s continually upsetting. Wearing a mask and remaining distant when outside are simple things to do,” she related in an Oct. 6 conversation with the Sun.  

“If residents or locals are scared to come here because of youngsters or adults gathering in groups without the necessary precautions, it does not bode well for our small-business community.” 

Bezich is worried that, as the municipality and the rest of South Jersey enter the thick of cold and flu season, current COVID case projections that are already trending upward in many states could go even higher.  

“The only way to stop this, is that reminders of the basics have to start at home and school, and must be reinforced there before it comes out into town,” she stated. “Outside of school and outside of work, these precautions need to be taken seriously.”

Although Bezich continues to witness incidents where people congregate outdoors without masks and in close proximity, she does not feel extra intervention is warranted. 

“We don’t have the capacity, nor do we want law enforcement dealing with public health. We don’t want them to be enforcers. It’s a matter of personal responsibility,” she added. 

One day prior to the interview, Gov. Phil Murphy declared “Halloween is on” across the Garden State, with the following precautions: Face masks are required, even beyond a costume mask; trick-or-treat groups are to be limited in number; treats are to be provided in a safe, quickly accessible manner; and large parties are to be avoided.

The last point is key, as there will be no Halloween parade this year in Haddonfield. It’s another blow to the borough, which saw its Memorial Day and Fourth of July festivities scuttled due to the need to curb large crowds for virus containment.

“The commissioners and Haddonfield Celebrations Association (HCA) have had that discussion,” Bezich noted. “It’s impossible to maintain social distancing and it’s impossible to put our law enforcement in harm’s way at this time of year.”

Bezich is working with the HCA to provide “boo bags,” of individually wrapped treats for kids. Community members will be asked to make a donation of $5 per bag and provide the name and address of a child or children to whom they want candy delivered. The bags will be dropped at the front porch or doorstep of the child’s house sometime on Oct. 31. 

Also in the works before the month is out, borough administration has called on art teachers from Haddonfield Middle School and Haddonfield Memorial High School to help decorate Kings Highway in a festive, fall fashion during the week leading up to Halloween. Commissioners have also discussed the status of the annual tree lighting and Santa parade normally held on the day after Thanksgiving, but they don’t yet know what shape the event will take. 

“We don’t want to say whether it’s definitively out, but I can say in talking to Commissioner (Jeffrey) Kasko and Mayor (Neal) Rochford, not one of us is comfortable with anyone gathering in numbers anywhere downtown,” Bezich related. 

The governing body will have to get creative in the coming weeks to ensure some part of the season’s cheer is preserved. Bezich hinted there may be a virtual lighting ceremony, or the possibility of small gatherings to honor a variety of winter holidays.

“We want people to have the chance to celebrate, and not be upset that the traditional things they look forward to are just going to be cancelled with no effort on our part,” she said.